Google CEO Pichai Meets With EU's Vestager as Probes Mount

  • First meeting between Vestager and recently appointed Pichai
  • CEO also met with EU officials active on digital issues

Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai came face to face with the European Union antitrust cop who has threatened the search-engine giant with hefty fines for squeezing out rivals.

Pichai and general counsel, Kent Walker, met with Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager for about an hour in Brussels amid growing scrutiny of the company’s business model and tax affairs. Pichai spoke earlier with the EU’s commissioner for digital issues, Guenther Oettinger, a skeptic of earlier EU efforts to settle an antitrust probe.

Neither side gave details of the content of the high-level talks beyond confirming they took place.

The EU is in the final stages of a probe into whether Google favors its own shopping-comparison service over rivals in its search results. Regulators are also investigating the Android mobile operating system for mobile phones, Google’s advertising contracts and are examining complaints over the tax arrangements of its parent company Alphabet Inc.

Pichai’s trip to Europe aimed to combat Google’s woes by flaunting its contribution to the European economy. He announced the company would spend 27 million euros ($29.8 million) to stimulate digital journalism. It also plans to teach digital skills to 2 million people in the region.

Data ‘New Oil’

He faces a tough audience as European executives and politicians raise fears over Internet companies like Google that collect and process large amounts of data. Publishers have been particularly outspoken as advertising revenue migrates online.

"Data is the new oil and you saw in the 1970s that a huge amount of wealth has been transferred to the countries where the oil was produced," Paul-Bernhard Kallen, chief executive officer of German publisher Hubert Burda Media Holding GmbH & Co. LP, said at a Brussels event on Wednesday.

Oettinger, Germany’s representative at the European Commission, echoed these concerns when he said earlier this week that EU regulators are exploring "concrete measures" to address the needs of European businesses, including "ways to mitigate the existing imbalance between data-rich and data-poor countries."

Set Limits

He cited creating personal data spaces where consumers could set limits on what companies could access and collaborative spaces for businesses to exchange data that may aid new innovation and services.

These wider issues add to the antitrust probe into Google’s search engine, which Vestager has said could be expanded into similar services such as local search, mapping or travel. She is yet to decide on ramping up her case against Android and Google’s advertising business, where officials are looking at arrangements that shut out rivals.

Vestager received a complaint over Alphabet’s tax deal with the U.K. after she said she would look at it if asked. She’s currently examining Apple Inc. and Inc.’s tax agreements with Ireland and Luxembourg over concerns they got a much better deal than other companies.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE